New St. Paul mayor suggests public service through sweat equity

State of City Summit to be first inclusive step

First of two parts

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter III urges stakeholder involvement. Charles Hallman/MSR News Online

During his successful mayoral campaign, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter III said he constantly heard from residents, business owners, and others who stated that they wanted more input at City Hall. “The biggest thing people had to say to us is that they want to be asked to help,” he remembered. He added that since the November election, residents have been asking to help “every single day.”

Residents will now get the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and help, as Carter is seeking applicants for over 30 city committees, boards, and commissions that help shape policy and programs. Current and future openings include the Capital Improvement Budget Committee, Parks and Recreation Commission, RiverCentre Convention and Visitors Authority and Civil Service Commission among others. Applications must be submitted by April 22.

Carter, in his January inauguration speech, asked every city resident to get involved in public service. “Public service through sweat equity,” he reiterated during our half-hour interview last week in his office at City Hall.

“What is City Hall for, and what is city government for, and how do we serve our community, and [how do] we get better every single day doing that?” Carter asked. “We’ve built and rooted our administration in three values.”

  1. Equity — “This shouldn’t [be] an initiative or a project of the City. It should be a lens in which we view all of our work — every single dollar spent, every single department, every single policy that we pass. [It] means that the City is really seeing every person in every part of our community.”
  2. Resilience — “Our economy is transforming before our eyes. [It] means acknowledging change and facing it forward with the focus on the future. We are a changing city — our population is growing, and our demographics are shifting.”
  3. Innovation — “Everything that we do, we have to do it with a focus on consistently getting better and better.”

“On top of these values, we have our three core pillars”: community-first public safety, lifelong learning, and economic justice.

The mayor described the three pillars:

  1. Public safety “through a criminal justice reform lens. Our public safety strategy is totally different. It starts with community children and families connecting with police. It starts with making sure St. Paul is a welcoming place” for formerly incarcerated persons returning to the community.
  2. Lifelong learning — “The way we support our schools, teachers and [students] for success,” including after-school and out-of-school learning programs, career preparation, and workforce readiness programs.
  3. Economic justice — “It starts with raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. I will be the mayor to sign that into law before the end of this year. Economic justice means people are able to live affordably, and people [are] able to turn income into wealth through the promise of job, entrepreneurship and be able to open a business and have access to financial resources and tools.”

Carter will deliver his first State of the City address April 14 at Johnson High School. The event will be part of a half-day State of Our City Summit open to the public of all ages from 9 am to noon.

“I haven’t written my speech yet,” he admitted, but he predicted that his administration’s core values and pillars will be discussed, as the summit will be divided into three segments.

First, “How I think we are as a city and how we should approach the new chapter,” he explained. “[Then] I want us to have an opportunity to speak with each other around that and meet people in our city who haven’t or wouldn’t have the chance to talk to each other. The third part is the opportunity to hear back from constituents. We need the opportunity to hear back from them as well.”

“The goal of our whole administration is two-way engagement,” Carter continued. “We are inviting people to do this with us. In order to get them to do this with us, we need them to help us design it.

“There won’t be a one-way dialogue to declare to the City what we are going to do, but a two-way dialogue. This is our city,” the first-year mayor promised. “Change can either be our biggest threat or our greatest opportunity.

“If we are really going to be innovated, resilient and drive equity, that means people across the city [will have to be involved],” Carter concluded.


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Next: Carter talks about the significance of being St. Paul’s first Black mayor.